23 of 32 NFL teams converted 50% or higher of their fourth down conversion attempts in 2018.
The Baltimore Ravens are going to set the NFL record for most attempted fourth down conversions (the browns set the record with 31) and convert the most fourth downs in NFL history (the 2017 eagles converted 17 in 2017).
That means the Ravens will be at least 18 of 32.
The NFL has been trending towards more fourth down conversions for years, as analytics and statistical analysis has become more commonplace. Some even contest that teams should never punt, kick extra points and always attempt onside kicks.
Last season, the Ravens were tied for third in the NFL in both attempts (22) and completions (13). Of the leagues 10 most frequently attempting to convert, six made the post season. In turn, the counter argument that bad teams go for it because they’re trailing isn’t necessarily valid.
The Ravens converted 59% (14th in the league) in 2018. That number should significantly improve if the rushing attack is anywhere near as sophisticated as it has been regarded in the offseason. With Baltimore aiming to drain clock, play from ahead and keep their defense fresh, this strategy should coincide with that ideology.
With so many other teams trending towards smaller, quicker defenders, ram the ball right up the gut. Use Ronnie Stanley, Nick Boyle, Orlando Brown Jr, Marshal Yanda and company to move the pile. Then, allow physical runners Gus Edwards and Mark Ingram to lower their shoulders. Sprinkling in the deceitful motions and QB options, this should be a nightmare on fourth down for opposing defenses. If Lamar Jackson can improve throwing screens, good luck stopping them.
Go for it early to see if you can take control of the game. If you have an opportunity for Sam Koch to pin the other team deep and flip the field, still make the opposing offense have to go the distance.
The Ravens should attempt over 40 fourth down conversions in 2019, and play a new brand of football. If the Ravens take a lead in a game and face manageable fourth downs near midfield, then they should try to step on their opponents throat by taking a two score lead.
Most teams willingness to abandon the run in favor of the airways won’t fare well against Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson and company.
Sean Payton and Doug Peterson have both shown an affinity for gambling on fourth down, and John Harbaugh has certainly taken notice. One issue is that Lamar Jackson looked extremely uncomfortable in ‘QB Sneak’ situations. He lost a ball on the goal line leaping over the pile in week 17. He generally looked awkward at times.
If that is improved upon, with the potential of the Ravens rushing attack, this team could do something special on fourth down. This formula could allow the Ravens to get off to a hot start before tape is out on them, and create a new identity as a fourth down juggernaut.
Do you think coach Harbaugh will keep the offense on the field more in 2019?